The Washington Football Team is in an uncertain spot when it comes to their quarterback of the future.
Taylor Heinicke has shown some resilience this season. After taking over for the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick in a season-opening loss to the Chargers, Heinicke rallied a fourth-quarter comeback against the Giants. After a 2-2 start, Washington endured a four-game losing streak. Then, after the bye week, Washington went on a four-game winning streak.
It’s been an interesting but bumpy ride with Heinicke under center, and last week’s loss against the Dallas Cowboys may have confirmed one thing; it’s unlikely that he’s the future of the franchise, but he can certainly help his offense win and make a playoff run when his team is healthy.
When we go to the tape, Heinicke has showed positives throughout the season, but also some concerns.
After the bye week, Heinicke was looking to get his team back on track after four consecutive losses. Washington traveled to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers, who were already 6-3 on the season, and Washington hadn’t beaten a team that was above .500 yet.
Washington’s defense held the Bucs to only 14 points and allowed only four third-down conversions, but what Heinicke did in the passing game was impressive as well. He finished 26 for 32 and had 256 yards through the air with one touchdown and a 110.4 quarterback rating.
Heinicke attacked the Buccaneers’ secondary and tore through their defense using play-action and pre-snap motion.
Heinicke has a receiver concept on the right side of the field with three defenders deep with man-match coverage underneath. The wide-out (top of clip) ran his cornerback out of the play, and this left the tight end one-on-one.
A few weeks later against the Los Angeles Raiders, another motion from the tight end identified zone coverage underneath with a safety over the top. With a concept route, post/corner, Heinicke only had to throw in the gap within the zone — which he did with ease.
When we go back to the Buccaneers game, we see that common theme between the motion and concepts which exploited one side of the defense. These throws get harder against Cover-3, as those gaps in the zones get smaller.
However, Heinicke has shown an ability to find openings in Cover-3 man under, Cover-1 zone under and Cover-3 zone under.
On the play below, Heinicke used motion to identify zone coverage. The play-action holds the safety, Jordan Whitehead, near the line of scrimmage, which leaves a little bit of space between the first and second level of the defense; Heinicke was lucky this one wasn’t picked off.
Per Sports Info Solutions, Heinicke with play-action this season is 106 of 146 for 1,188 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions. Without play-action, it’s a different story, as he had completed 172 of 272 passesfor 1.743 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
When we move to last week’s game against the Cowboys, Dallas’ defense had seen Heinicke’s success against zone and play action, so they threw in some disguises post-snap to force Heinicke to go through all of his reads.
On this play, the linebacker dropped deep into coverage, taking away Heinicke’s initial reads in the middle of the field.
Instead of just remaining patient and throwing the crosser, as he wasn’t being pressured, Heinicke tried to check down, then scrambled when he realizes his back was covered as well.
When we go back to Week 5 against the Saints, New Orleans’ defense used that same tactic.
Play-action gave Heinicke time to read linebacker Demario Davis, but when Davis dropped back to pick up the receiver, who is attempting to split the deep safety, Heinicke needed to move to the next read. It was too late, and Heinicke took a sack. Dallas used this same tactic last week.
When Heinicke saw a dropping linebacker paired with a heavy pass rush, instead of settling for the shallow completion, he forced it deep.
Washington had to basically abandon play-action when they faced the Cowboys because of linebacker Micah Parsons’ 4.3 speed.
Not having the advantages of play-action really hindered Heinicke’s performance. He wasn’t settling for the shallow passes, continued to throw into triple coverage in the middle of the field. Opponents won’t continue to leave their corners on an island, and when they do, they will make sure they blitz to force him into bad decisions.
Heinicke is a capable system quarterback who can thrive in situations where his defense and rushing attack can help him win games. But unless he’s in a heavily-schemed offense, he’s unlikely to beat a team that he shouldn’t beat.
Just as long as Heinicke doesn’t turn the ball over, he puts the Washington Football Team in a decent position for playoffs; as they play only one team that is above .500 for the remainder of the season.
Beyond this season, Washington will have an interesting decision to make. Do they want to develop Taylor Heinicke as their quarterback of the future, or do they attempt to find a quarterback who is more scheme-transcendent?